Aspergillus & common diseases

What is it?
Aspergillus is a group of molds (fungi), which can be found everywhere worldwide, especially in the autumn and winter in the Northern hemisphere. Only a few of these molds can cause illness in humans and animals. Most people are naturally immune and do not develop disease caused by Aspergillus. However, when disease does occur, it can take several forms.

The types of diseases caused by Aspergillus are varied, ranging from an “allergy” type illness to life-threatening generalized infections. Diseases caused by Aspergillus are called aspergillosis The severity of aspergillosis is determined by various factors but one of the most important is the state of the immune system of the person.

Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)
This is a condition that produces an allergy to the spores of the Aspergillus molds. It is quite common in asthmatics; up to 20% of asthmatics might get this at some time during their lives. ABPA is also common in cystic fibrosis patients, as they reach adolescence and adulthood. The symptoms are similar to those of asthma: intermittent episodes of feeling unwell, coughing and wheezing. Some patients cough up brown-colored plugs of mucus. The diagnosis can be made by X-ray or by sputum, skin and blood tests. In the long term ABPA can lead to permanent lung damage (fibrosis) if untreated. more info

This is a very different disease also caused by the Aspergillus mold. The fungus grows within a cavity of the lung, which was previously damaged during an illness such as tuberculosis or sarcoidosis. Any lung disease that causes cavities can leave a person open to developing an aspergilloma. The spores penetrate the cavity and germinate, forming a fungal ball within the cavity. The fungus secretes toxic and allergic products that may make the person feel ill. more info

Aspergillus sinusitis
Aspergillus disease can happen in the sinuses leading to Aspergillus sinusitis. This happens in a similar way to aspergilloma. In those with normal immune systems, stuffiness of the nose, chronic headache or discomfort in the face is common. more info

Invasive aspergillosis
Many people with damaged or impaired immune system die from invasive aspergillosis. Their chances of living are improved the earlier the diagnosis is made but unfortunately there is no good diagnostic test. Often treatment has to be started when the condition is only suspected. This condition is usually clinically diagnosed in a person with low defenses such as bone marrow transplant, low white cells after cancer treatment, AIDS or major burns. There is also a rare inherited condition that gives people low immunity (chronic granulomatous disease) that puts affected people at moderate risk.

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